Citing a “proposal” from President Serzh Sarkisian, parliament speaker Hovik Abrahamian announced on Wednesday his decision to resign, the latest in a series of key personnel changes within Armenia’s political leadership.
In an interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am), Abrahamian dismissed media speculation that he was forced to quit because of being regarded as a backer of former President Robert Kocharian’s possible bid to return to power.
News of the resignation emerged after Sarkisian chaired late on Tuesday yet another meeting of the governing body of his Republican Party (HHK). HHK spokesman Eduard Sharmazanov said Abrahamian accepted the president’s offer to run the party’s campaign for the May 2012 parliamentary elections and decided to step down as speaker as a result.
Abrahamian confirmed this. “The president proposed that I run the pre-election campaign of the Republican Party and I find that very important,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
“With this step I also want to demonstrate to fellow party members and some politicians that I’m not clinging to my post,” he said.
“Since the president, the party and myself attach a great deal of importance to the pre-election campaign, I don’t want to combine these two jobs and cast a shadow on the post of National Assembly chairman,” added the speaker.
Abrahamian already worked as the HHK’s and Sarkisian’s campaign manager in the last national elections while being deputy prime minister and minister for local government.
Abrahamian announced his exit from the parliament leadership the day after the sacking of Alik Sargsian, the chief of the Armenian police, and less than a week after the equally unexpected resignation of Yerevan Mayor Karen Karapetian.
Armenian commentators have suggested that these changes are part of President Sarkisian’s efforts to ward off a potential challenge to his rule from Kocharian. The latter gave in late September the strongest indication yet that he would like to return to active politics.
Both Karapetian and Alik Sargsian have denied any political motives behind their departures, however.
Abrahamian likewise insisted that his resignation has “nothing to do” with Kocharian. “Serzh Sarkisian has the closest rapport with Kocharian … I have never meddled and don’t want to meddle in their relations,” he said.
“I am with the current team and will stick with it to the end,” he said.
Abrahamian is widely believed to be close to Gagik Tsarukian, a wealthy Kocharian-linked businessman whose Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) is a junior partner in the governing coalition. One of the speaker’s sons is married to a daughter of the tycoon.
Tsarukian said last month that Kocharian has “every moral and political right” to come out of political retirement. He also pointedly declined to pledge support for Sarkisian’s reelection in 2013. The BHK reportedly came under pressure from the presidential administration shortly afterwards.
Abrahamian claimed on Wednesday that he will be more influential as HHK campaign chief than parliament speaker in the months leading up to the parliamentary polls. “If we manage to win the parliamentary elections, it’s clear that Hovik Abrahamian will not get a more low-level post, isn’t it?” he said.
Stepan Safarian, a parliamentary leader of the opposition Zharangutyun (Heritage) party, dismissed these explanations as “unconvincing.” He said that Abrahamian has on the contrary been put in a very difficult situation seeing as he will have to earn the presidential party votes at the BHK’s expense in his new capacity.
“This is a step to nullify chances of Robert Kocharian’s return,” Safarian said of Abrahamian’s resignation.
But Davit Harutiunian, a senior HHK parliamentarian tipped by some commentators to become the next speaker, insisted that the resignation is not the result of differences within the Sarkisian administration. “Although we are not yet in a pre-election situation, it is necessary to start mobilizing forces given the fact that a fairly heated political struggle awaits us,” he told journalists.
Asked whether he indeed will succeed Abrahamian as speaker, Harutiunian said, “If you want to know my preferences, that post is absolutely not part of my preferences. I am really not interested in that post.”